Antoine Berthiaume/Michel Donato/Pierre Tanguay

Ellen’s Bar
Ambiences Magnetiques AM 152 CD

Michel Donato
Et Ses Amis Europeens
Efendi FND050

Forty years after he arrived on the scene, Michel Donato is still Montreal’s first-call jazz bassist. These CDs demonstrate why Donato, 64, who has backed everyone from chansonier Gilles Vigneault to pianist Oscar Peterson is in such demand. Working with two sets of younger musicians, he’s a powerful yet sympathetic time-keeper, pushing the tunes along without calling attention to himself.

On Ellen’s Barr, for instance, he adds his rock-solid rhythm to 11 originals otherwise featuring two players better-known for their commitment to musique actuelle: guitarist Antoine Berthiaume and drummer Pierre Tanguay. A slight misnomer Et Ses Amis Europeans features two continentals – trumpeter Piotr Wojtasik and guitarist Michael Felberbaum both Polish – plus two Québécois domiciled in France: tenor saxophonist François Théberge and drummer Karl Jannuska. The five play nine Freebop originals.

Neither date is far out, unlike Berthiaume’s earlier reductionist CDs. Here the guitarist’s supple fills and soloing lie within parameters set by Herb Ellis and Bill Frisell, giving the CD a country-ish vibe. Due to the additional colors available from the horn section, the quintet date is more memorable. Expansive arrangements create voicing that makes the band sound bigger than five pieces. “Have You Met Mr. Jones” is the stand-out track. Written by Donato, it’s a slinky ballad centred on the bassist’s rounded grace notes. Around him are call-and-response horn riffs and echoing guitar fills,

Elsewhere Donato’s woody lope anchors the improvisations. Wojtasik showcases muted grace notes; Théberge intense double-tongued trills and slurs; Jannuska restrained rolling bounces; and Felberbaum speedy runs.

Similar teamwork is apparent on the other CD, although the guitarist takes most of the solos. In this smaller setting Donato is more sensed than heard, though his oblique, sturdy piloting remains. The nub of Tanguay’s accompaniment is rim shots and ratamacues, unique additions to the guitarist’s lapidary solos.

Using chiming runs, Berthiaume shines with a natural romantic bent. Prime instance of this is “Nose Worthy”. Sprinkled with C&W licks, the straightforward melody skirts ordinariness due to drum rolls and pops plus a walking bass line. Tough plucking from Donato rescues other tunes where the guitarist’s flinger-picking threatens to move into supper club territory.

Both CDs are fine examples of an older master’s collaboration with younger improvisers.

— Ken Waxman

For Whole Note Vol. 12 #1